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Posted by pbio on 07 May 2009 at 22:19 GMT

Author: F de Waal
Position: C. H. Candler Professor
Institution: Emory University
Submitted Date: August 01, 2007
Published Date: August 1, 2007
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

Of course, we all owe Charles Darwin a great debt. Unfortunately, descriptions like Darwin's are nowadays routinely dismissed as "anecdotes," a label also pinned on observations by experts who have known a particular species for decades. Scientists ignore such observations at their peril, however. Even though one-time accounts are not to be accepted at face value, they offer an excellent starting point for further research (de Waal, 1991). Indeed, I do not know of a single major experimental finding in animal cognition that was not foretold by descriptive accounts - the present report on chimpanzee altruism being no exception.

de Waal, F. B. M. (1991). Complementary methods and convergent evidence in the study of primate social cognition. Behaviour 118: 297-320.

No competing interests declared.